7mm-08 for Elk: How Good is it?

For elk hunting, it might be the best cartridge you’ve ever heard of. The 7mm-08 is a sort of “Frankenstein Round” an adaptation of the wildly popular .308 cartridge that entered the market, and the also popular 7mm.

Mix the best of these two together, and you don’t get the Frankenstein monster, but rather a deadly combination that is effective in almost every situation against elk.

Offered in boxed ammunition in sizes of 120, 139 and 150 grain bullets, and in multitudes of hand loaded specialty cartridges, they all deliver the 1,000 foot pounds of energy necessary to ethically drop a big game animal at distances to 300-yards.

The majority of these cartridges in 139 and 150 grain variety exceed that range, remaining effective to 600 yards while still delivering over 1,000 pounds of energy.

History of the 7mm-08

In the late 1950s a wildcat cartridge, the 7mm/.308 began showing up at shooting ranges and on deer and elk hunts across the United States. While just a wildcat or hand-loaded round, the custom cartridge developed a broad following.

In 1980, Remington took the anecdotal evidence coming from the 7mm/308 communities to heart and developed a mass market cartridge in the 7mm-08.

The process was a simple one for Remington engineers took the well respected .308 shell casing, necked the shoulder down to hold a .284 bullet, with a 20 degree shoulder to ensure good head space and smooth feeding and produced a classic big game cartridge.

Rifle manufacturers were quick to add the versatile cartridge to their standard lineup of calibers. The 7mm-08 compared well against the ballistic performance of the .308, .30-06 and .270, quickly becoming a favorite choice for elk hunting across the American West and into Canada.

The 7mm-08 had less recoil than it’s grandfather cartridges the .30-06 and the .308, allowing it to be accurate in lighter rifles.

Lighter weight is an important concern in elk hunting where a hunter might find themselves climbing and descending a seemingly endless series of ridges at altitudes in excess of 8,000 feet in pursuit of good quality bull elk.

The less you carry, the farther you can go without difficulty is aided by the lower rifle weight requirement of the 7mm-08.

The 7mm-08 a Great Choice For Elk Hunting

There are a few basic metrics you need to consider no matter the style of hunting you’re about to pursue. Accuracy, reliability and energy must always be considered as the three main components in a big game cartridge.

When that big game is an elk, the largest member of the deer family outside the moose, you need an accurate placement of a high energy round delivered at distances near or beyond a quarter-mile at times.

Let’s take a look at the ballistics of the 7mm-08 and then break down how those measurements make the cartridge a great choice for elk hunting.

7mm-08 selected ballistic measurements

Grains100 Yard Velocity200 Yard Velocity400 Yard Velocity100 Yard Energy200 Yard Energy400 Yard Energy400 Yards Bullet drop  

Any caliber above .243 has ample energy at range to harvest an elk. What that range is can vary greatly. A .243 has a light weight bullet, but enough velocity to convert that smaller bullet into enough energy to easily break the 1,000 foot pound required at 100 to 200-yards.

In the heyday of elk hunting, after the moratorium on hunting was lifted gradually in states across the west just before World War II, it was the realm of the .30-06 for most elk hunters.

After the war, the .308, .270 and the 7mm rose to stardom across the west. The 7mm-08 takes the popularity of those cartridges into the 21st century.

Which 7mm-08 Bullet Should You Shoot?

Looking at the ballistic table above may seem counterintuitive. All three of the bullets, the 120, 139 and 150 grain varieties will easily take the biggest bull elk with a well placed heart/lung shot.

The velocity of a bullet fired with the same powder charge is faster with a lighter weight bullet at 100 yards, giving it an advantage, but in the peculiarities of air resistance, weight, speed and distance all weigh heavily in favor of the initially slower heavier bullet.

It means the heavier bullet, the less it will drop at 400 yards, and the more accurate it will be at greater distances.

All modern cartridges are designed to “zero out” or “shoot flat” at 200 yards. That means a bullet will be the same height at 200 yards that it is when it exits the barrel.

The flat shooting standard is set across the range of cartridges since most big game is taken at distances of 150 to 200 yards.

Longer distance shots, the type you often get when hunting bull elk across several ridges, or up on a hillside above a waterhole are more challenging, but a heavier bullet, in combination with a well targeted high end rifle scope compensate for this extra distance, allowing accurate shots to 800 yards in some 7mm-08 cartridge configurations.

7mm-08 for Elk

The 120 grain bullet has a slightly lower recoil than the 139 or 150 grain bullets do, but the difference is so marginal that most shooters can’t tell the difference. The comparative ballistics below are based on a 20 inch barrel.

If you were to purchase a 7mm-08 with a 22,24 or even 28 inch length the difference in velocity, energy and drop in a 120 isn’t that much different. But in a 139 or 150 grain bullet the additional two, four or eight inches translates to longer burn time in the barrel.

For each extra inch, that’s a few dozen feet per second in velocity which when combined with the heavier 139 or 150 grain bullet translates into greater energy over distance, and less bullet drop. Buying a slightly longer barrel with your prospective 7mm-08 rifle is a great idea if it’s in your price range.

When considering the distances you might find yourself attempting shots on elk, the 120 grain bullet works just fine under 300 yards, but doesn’t have the energy to ethical take an elk beyond that range.

If you’re most likely to take shots at 400 to 600 yards, which is a long shot for any hunter, the 139 grain bullet is your best bet. It has the least bullet drop at 400 yards, but does drop a bit faster than the 150 grain bullet at distances beginning around 460 yards away.


The 150 grain bullet is the best one for extreme shots. Elk hunters rarely have the opportunity to set up, stabilize their rifle, adjust the scope accordingly and then squeeze off a shot at around half-a-mile away, but when they do, the 150 grain bullet delivers the best performance.

It starts out slower by almost 100 feet per second against the 139 grain bullet, and nearly 800 feet per second versus the 120 grain bullet.

However, at 400 yards, the velocity of the 139 and 150 are nearly equal, and when considering energy there is no comparison at 400 yards where the 150 grain variety packs almost twice the punch of the 120 grain bullet, and has nearly 100 foot pounds on the 139, with a substantial increase over the rest of the distance before all the bullets are considered spent.

A drop of 27.5 in the 120 grain bullet, 20.3 in the 139 grain, and only 21.6 with the heavyweight 150 grain bullet is excellent in comparison with other popular calibers of big game rifle cartridges.

Only the 6.5 Creedmoor expresses similar ballistics to the 7mm-08 in any of these bullet size. We’re talking about a good elk hunting cartridge in the 7mm-08, but it is a popular caliber for distance shooting enthusiasts as well.

The metrics discussed above are all for standard, boxed ammunition. You can find 7mm-08 in 120, 139 and 150 grain bullet sizes on the shelves of your local sporting goods store, and they’re readily available in these standard sizes from many online stores as well.

If you want more punch, greater distance and the same stable accuracy you can load your own cartridges with 160 grain bullets and get that style of performance, but this size remains a custom loaded cartridge and is not available from the mainstream manufacturers.


The 7mm-08 is a fabulous choice for elk hunting. It has grown in popularity over the four decades since it was introduced in 1980.

The high energy over distance, lower bullet drop, which makes adjusting your scope easier over distance and the short cycle nature of the cartridge which allows it to work well in standard bolt action rifles makes this a great choice for elk hunting.

The next time you plan on stalking big bull elk in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho or Utah, you might want to consider the 7mm-08 as your cartridge of choice. Yes, the .30-06, .308 and .270 get the job done, but they don’t deliver the energy with the lower bullet drop that the 7mm-08 can.

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